We are all too familiar with basil as an aromatic seasoning herb that makes our bowl of pasta taste better, but an increasing number of people swear by it for its various medicinal benefits as well. Aptly referred to as the “queen of herbs” or “holy basil”, its cultivation dates back to 5000 years ago to the Hunan Region of China.
Widely used in Ayurvedic Medicine for treating an array of ailments, basil or tulsi, as it’s known in India, is historically revered and has been a common fixture in a majority of Indian households.
Since it does not require a lot of sunlight, it has become easier for people around the world to grow it indoors and reap its therapeutic rewards.
From its leaves to its flowers, every part of the basil plant is enriched with various chemical compounds that are known to prevent diseases and promote health.
Nutritional Value of Basil
With just 22 calories per 100 grams, basil is a low-calorie and high-nutrient herb boasting of a number of nutrients including:(2)
Nutritional value of basil leaves per 100 grams:
Much of basil’s healing goodness can be attributed to its polyphenolic flavonoid content. These water-soluble flavonoids, namely orientin and vicenin, possess anti-oxidizing properties and are effective in shielding the body from various diseases caused by free radicals such as high cholesterol, asthma and arthritis.
Moreover, basil is rich in enzyme-inhibiting essential oils, including eugenol, citronellol and linalool, which work along the same lines as aspirin and ibuprofen in combating inflammation and have proved effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel conditions.
These volatile oils have also proved effective in impeding the growth of a wide range of bacteria, including those pathogens that have otherwise become resistant to conventional antibiotic treatment.
- Pregnant women as well as those planning to conceive in the near future should refrain from consuming basil. As per animal studies, excessive intake of basil by mouth was found to reduce the odds of successful conception. Moreover, it has also been associated with an increased risk of miscarriages. While an equivalent human study is still warranted to determine if these claims apply to humans as well.
- Hypothyroidism entails that your body produces insufficient levels of the thyroid hormone called thyroxine. Basil can do more harm than good for people with hypothyroidism by further lowering thyroxine levels and thereby further deteriorating this condition.
- Cease the consumption and use of basil as early as 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery since its blood thinning effect has been associated with an increased risk of bleeding during and after the procedure.
- Basil can amplify the blood glucose lowering effect of insulin and other antidiabetic drugs, and thereby plunge your blood sugar dangerously low. Thus, diabetics should exercise necessary precaution when using basil and consult their doctor before they start consumption.
- Since basil is known to hamper blood clotting, consuming it alongside anticoagulant/antiplatelet drugs that engender the same effect can prove harmful and result in bruising and bleeding. Aspirin, Warfarin, heparin, clopidogrel, dalteparin, enoxaparin, ticlopidine are some of the common blood-thinning medications known to slow blood clotting.
- Although not conclusively establish, holy basil seed oil is suspected to double up the sedative effect of Pentobarbital.
Advantages of Adding Basil to Your Diet
Here are 10 health benefits of basil.
1. Treats Common Cold
Basil is widely acknowledged as a miracle worker in the treatment of fever and common cold. Various compounds in basil help mobilize mucus, thereby clearing clogged respiratory pathways. It has therefore emerged as an effective treatment for several respiratory problems such as bronchitis and asthma.
Chewing on some fresh basil leaves or preparing a paste and ingesting a spoonful greatly helps to keep the flu at bay.
During the monsoons when malaria and dengue are rampant, it is advisable to consume tender leaves of basil after boiling them in water to avert the risk of catching fever.
When suffering from acute fever, a decoction of the basil leaves boiled with powdered cardamom in 1 cup of water must be consumed several times a day. The juice of basil leaves can be used to bring down high temperature.
2. Relieves Cough
Basil is a key ingredient in cough syrups and expectorants. But instead of buying these drugs which often come with their fair share of harmful side-effects, you can concoct a basil-based home remedy that works just as well.
Add 8 basil leaves and 5 cloves to a cup of water and boil it for 10 minutes. You can add some salt for taste.
Allow it to cool and then drink it to relieve coughing.
In order to get rid of a sore throat resulting from a persistent cough, gargling with water boiled with basil leaves has proved to be effective.
Research suggests that recovery from cough and cold is accelerated if basil extracts are added to the steam, instead of plain steam inhalation.
3. Boosts Immune System
Eating fresh basil leaves regularly will give your immune system a boost. Studies show that the various chemical compounds in basil may improve the body’s production of infection-fighting antibodies. Furthermore, it is advisable to use fresh basil rather than dried versions to obtain optimal results.
4. Stress Buster
Basil is also recognized as an ‘adaptogen’ or anti-stress agent which helps the body to cope with different kinds of stress as well as promotes mental well-being. For instance, various studies have shown the beneficial qualities of basil leaves in alleviating noise stress.
Some health experts recommend chewing 10 to 12 leaves of basil, twice a day, to prevent feeling stressed and developing stress-related disorders.
Ayurveda encourages substituting caffeinated drinks with basil tea for a sense of calm within the body and mind.
Alternatively, a supplement pill can be taken if the tea is too bitter for your taste. However, before taking the pill do consult your physician.
5. Improves Vision
Just 100 grams of fresh basil leaves (a little more than a bunch of fresh basil) provide the recommended daily dose of vitamin A. Vitamin A has antioxidant properties and is essential for healthy vision.(13)
Fresh basil juice is an effective remedy for sore eyes and night-blindness, which is commonly caused by vitamin A deficiency. For sore eyes, put 2 drops of black basil juice into the affected eye daily before going to bed.
6. Prevents Acne
This herb prevents acne outbreaks and also expedites the healing process of acne lesions. The oil in fresh basil leaves helps clear bacteria from the skin that is often responsible for clogged pores, a primary cause of acne.
If you already have acne, apply basil juice to the affected areas to help destroy the bacteria.
Basil can also be used to treat other skin problems such as ringworm, psoriasis and insect bites. The anti-inflammatory properties of fresh basil juice work to reduce skin inflammation and provide relief. Basil also renders the skin soft, supple and healthy.
7. Enhances Oral Health
Basil is good for oral health, too. It can fight off bad breath, pyorrhea and various other periodontal diseases as well.
Put a few fresh basil leaves in the sun for 1 or 2 days. Once the leaves are dried up, pound them into a powder and use it to brush your teeth.
You can also mix the powder with mustard oil to make a natural toothpaste.
Moreover, you can massage it on your gums to get rid of bad breath.
8. Eliminates Kidney Stones
Basil may have a strengthening effect on kidney functioning. While this claim is not supported by many scientific studies, those studying natural medicine believe it to be helpful.
In order to improve overall kidney function, consume 5 to 6 fresh basil leaves with water on an empty stomach.
If you have kidney stones, mix freshly extracted basil juice with an equal amount of honey. Drink it every day without fail for about 5 to 6 months. This tends to facilitate the speedy expulsion of kidney stones through the urinary tract.
Note: It is, however, imperative to consult with a physician before adopting any of these techniques in order to ensure its safety and effectiveness for you.
9. Cures Stomach Problems
A touch of basil not only makes your food more palatable but also aid its digestion by alkalizing the body. Basil promotes better digestive health in the following ways:
- Reduces water retention and bloating
- Restores proper pH level of the body
- Cures stomach cramps and acid reflux
- Promotes the growth of healthy bacteria within the gut microflora
- Fights harmful bacteria, worms and parasites that may lead to disease
- Is a better alternative to the conventional medicine as it is sans any side effects.
You can extract basil juice from its leaves to treat stomach aches or cramps. Mix 1 teaspoon of basil juice with an equal amount of ginger juice and drink it to ease stomach pain almost instantly.
You can also drink basil tea to treat other common stomach problems such as constipation, indigestion, piles and acidity.
10. Relieves Headache
Basil may provide relief from headaches, as it works as a muscle relaxant.
Mix pounded basil leaves with sandalwood paste and put it on your forehead for instant relief from a headache caused by tension and tight muscles.
Alternatively, drink basil tea twice a day. To make the tea, put some fresh basil leaves in a cup of boiling water and allow it to sit for a few minutes. Sip the tea slowly and your headache will resolve.
For mild headaches, you can chew some fresh basil leaves, or massage your head with pure basil oil.
If you do not already have a basil plant in your home, consider buying one so you have fresh basil readily available to treat these common problems.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Ms. Malina Malkani, MS (Registered Dietician and Nutritionist)
Are holy basil and basil the same thing?
Holy basil is typically used in teas and supplements and is a different species from sweet basil, which is typically used in pasta sauces and pesto. The nutritional profiles of both types of basil are similar – both are very good sources of vitamin A and C and good sources of calcium, iron and magnesium. Holy basil is occasionally used in cooking but has a spicier, more bitter flavor.
What can be the possible side effects of basil?
Sweet basil is generally safe when eaten in small amounts. With regard to holy basil, as with any supplements, it’s important to consult with a doctor before starting a supplemental regimen. People on blood thinners should speak to a doctor about regularly eating any leafy greens (including sweet basil) and they should try to eat the same amount each day, since leafy greens are high in vitamin K and can interfere with blood-thinning drugs.
Note that animal studies suggest that there may be a potential negative effect of holy basil on sperm and pregnancy, so for those who are trying to get pregnant, it is wise to avoid it.
What are the benefits of consuming basil leaves daily?
Human studies of holy basil supplements suggest that basil may offer health benefits for blood sugar management and stress reduction and that eating sweet basil may offer similar benefits, however further research is needed.
Basil contains compound that may offer anti-inflammatory health benefits and in antioxidant capacity. It has been a staple ingredient in folk remedies and holistic medicinal treatments throughout history. Animal and test tube studies suggest a wide range of potential health benefits associated with basil, however more research is needed.
Please provide some additional tips or inputs regarding the nutritional benefits of basil for our readers.
Whenever possible, use fresh basil instead of dried and use 1/3 of the amount of dried basil compared with fresh. When buying, select basil with vibrant leaves that don’t contain any dark spots or “yellowing” colors. The best practice is to add basil toward the end of the cooking process to maximize flavor, nutrients and essence.
About Ms. Malina Malkani, MS, RDN, CDN: Malina owns a New York-based private practice and nutrition consulting company focused on helping moms provide more nutrient-dense, minimally processed whole foods for their kids. Malina is also the Director of Nutrition at Rejuvenan Global Health, a personal health and telemedicine platform, a National Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a mom of three young kids.
- Złotek U, Mikulska S, Nagajek M, Świeca M. The effect of different solvents and number of extraction steps on the polyphenol content and antioxidant capacity of basil leaves (Ocimum basilicum L.) extracts. Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4992113/. Published August 6, 2015.
- Basic Report: 02044, Basil, fresh. USDA Food Composition Databases. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/02044. Published April 2018.
- Prakash P, Gupta N. Therapeutic uses of Ocimum sanctum Linn (Tulsi) with a note on eugenol and its pharmacological actions: a short review. Therapeutic uses of Ocimum sanctum Linn (Tulsi) with a note on eugenol and its pharmacological actions: a short review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16170979. Published April 2005.
- Kamble M, Londhe S, Rapelli P, Thakur P, Ray S. A comparative study to assess the effect of steam inhalation v/s Tulsi leaves inhalation on the sign and symptoms of cold and cough among adult group in selected areas of Pune city. International Journal of Medicine Research. http://www.medicinesjournal.com/archives/2017/vol2/issue2/2-3-13. Published March 1, 2017.
- Mukherjee R, Dash PK, Ram GC. Immunotherapeutic potential of Ocimum sanctum (L) in bovine subclinical mastitis. Research in Veterinary Science. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0034528804002164. Published December 21, 2004.
- Sembulingam K, Sembulingam P, Namasivayam A. Effect of Ocimum sanctum Linn on the changes in central cholinergic system induced by acute noise stress. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S037887410400501X. Published November 30, 2004.
- Bhateja S. Therapeutic benefits of holy basil. ijrap. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263463997. Published 2012.
- Khair-ul-Bariyah, Ahmed D, Aujla MI. Ocimum Basilicum: A Review on Phytochemical and … Pakistan Journal of Chemistry. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Dildar_Ahmed/publication/274286672. Published 2012.
- Bhateja S. (PDF) Therapeutic benefits of holy basil – ResearchGate. International Journal of Research. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263463997_Therapeutic_benefits_of_holy_basil. Published 2012.
- Maimes S. Maimes Report on Holy Basil – Tátra Sóbarlang. https://tatrasobarlang.hu/wp-content/new_images/MaimesReportHolyBasil-1.pdf. Published November 2004.
- Goel RK, Sairam K, Dorababu M, Prabha T, Rao Ch. Effect of standardized extract of Ocimum sanctum Linn. on gastric mucosal offensive and defensive factors. Indian Journal of Experimental Biology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16121713. Published August 2005.
- Bhateja S, Arora G. Therapeutic benefits of holy basil (TULSI) in general and oral medicin. International Journal of Research in Ayurveda and Pharmacy. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/269846832. Published December 2012.
- Cohen MM. Tulsi – Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4296439/. Published 2014.